5 simple ways to reduce sodium intake

by Kelly Forness on August 6, 2012 · 0 comments

salt in diet

Salt comes in many forms.  There is refined salt, which is regular table salt, made from sodium chloride.  This is probably what is in your salt shaker.  Then, there is sea salt, which is unrefined, and actually comes from the seawater.  Sea salt is usually more expensive than regular table salt.  Because it is unrefined, it is marketed as being more natural and healthy, but it still has the same nutritional value as table salt.

Salt is used for flavoring food and is used to preserve foods so they will last longer.  This is why there is so much sodium in processed foods, and, with the increased consumption of processed foods, this is why so many people have a diet that is very high in sodium.

Sodium has many health risks

Consuming too much sodium in your diet has many consequences, and can lead to high blood pressure, kidney disease and heart disease.  With the increased consumption of fast foods and processed foods, sodium intake has increased over the years, especially in the United States and other “Westernized” countries.

Fresh foods contain very little sodium.  When foods are processed, the amount of sodium in a given amount of that food significantly increases.  For example, a plain baked potato contains about 12 mg of sodium; but, after being processed and turned into hash browns or potato chips, the same serving size contains over 500mg of sodium!

Sodium does provide benefits

Although sodium has a bad reputation, it is very important to include it in our diets.  Sodium is considered an essential mineral, and is necessary for our bodies to function properly.  It is needed in order for our bodies to maintain the right acid-base balance in body fluids; it helps maintain the right amount of water in blood and body tissues; and it is needed for muscles and nerves to work properly.

It is recommended for both men and women to consume about 1500mg of sodium per day in order for the body to function properly.  Consuming too little sodium is not good for us, either and it causes side effects such as weakness, poor appetite, muscle cramps, headache, and swelling.

We consume too much sodium in our diets

According to the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Study, adult males and females in the United States consumed mostly between about 3000mg and 4659mg of sodium per day.  It is recommended not to exceed 2300mg per day, so some people were consuming more than double the recommendation!

The sodium content in processed and fast foods is already very high.  But, even adding salt to unprocessed foods can be very dangerous.  One teaspoon of salt contains 2300mg of sodium, which is the maximum recommended amount for the whole day.  So, if you are adding salt to your food, you may want to measure it first.

What can you do to reduce your sodium intake?

Don’t use as much salt to flavor your foods. 

Although seasoning with salt is easy and can really add a lot of flavor to your food, it will easily increase your daily sodium intake.  Also, it is so easy to use too much.  Unless you are very careful with the salt shaker or you measure your salt, you should choose to flavor your food with other items.

You can try different spices, but watch out because some seasonings contain salt.  You can use fresh or dried herbs, lemon juice, garlic, vinegar, onion, or other salt-free spices to flavor your food.  There are even spice mixtures that don’t contain salt, such as, Mrs. Dash.

Cut down on the processed food that you eat. 

This may not be as convenient and easy for you, but these foods are where a lot of the sodium is hidden.  Packaged foods, even ones that you would think are healthy, like soup, contain so much sodium.  After a while, you may not even like how they taste, and you may even think that they taste too salty.

It is best to eat fresh foods that are as close to their natural state as possible.  Avoid canned fruits and vegetables; and instead, choose fresh or frozen vegetables.  Choose fresh meats instead of meat that has been soaked in salt, such as bacon or ham.  Avoid packaged grains that contain seasoning packets; and pick plain grain which you can season yourself.

Try lower sodium versions of your favorite foods. 

Some people don’t like these as much, but it is definitely worth trying to find out if you do.  A lot of products such as soups, drinks like tomato juice, crackers, and chips have low-sodium versions.  In order for a product to be labeled low-sodium, it must contain 140mg or less of sodium per serving.

If it is reduced sodium, it must contain 75% less sodium than its full sodium version.  Lightly salted products must contain 25% less sodium than the full sodium version, and no salt added products don’t have any salt added.  Sodium-free products must contain less than 5mg sodium per serving.

Avoid products that are labeled fat-free or low-fat if you are going to choose to eat processed foods.

These foods may contain more fat than the full fat versions.  When the fat is decreased in a food the fat has to be replaced with something else in order for the food to maintain its taste.  A lot of the time that includes adding more salt or sugar.  This even includes fat-free or low-fat versions of salad dressing.

When eating out, choose foods that are lower in sodium. 

A lot of restaurants have nutrition facts for their foods.  You can look at the nutrition information before deciding what to eat.  Many burgers or sandwiches, especially from fast food restaurants, contain well over 1000mg of sodium.  Even a salad can contain that much!  If the nutrition information isn’t readily available, you can ask your server which foods are lower in sodium.

These are just some of the ways you can cut down on the amount of sodium you are eating.  It may not sound easy, but after a while, you may not even notice the difference, and your body will thank you.

References used in this article

Kelly Forness
About the author

Kelly is a registered Dietetic Technician. She has a Master’s degree in Exercise Science and Health Promotion and she is also a NASM certified personal trainer. You can connect with her on Google+

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